When we come to live in another country it’s up to us to assimilate ourselves into the culture. It’s essential to keep an open mind to the different customs and practices that you may experience and then you really come to appreciate the country you have chosen to live in and you’ll find that the locals will appreciate you more and you can live your expatriate life to the fullest. In Thailand I generally find this quite easy, the Thais are a friendly, lighthearted bunch and they love their food and family comes first etc but I think the hardest aspect of living here to become accustomed to is driving and the roads. It’s totally different to most countries, particularly western countries and I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully get used to it. There are some general rules but they are not really followed most of the time and they are certainly not enforced. e.g. drink driving is illegal but the general advice is that if you are going to do it just drive slowly. I’m going to run through some different circumstances you’ll most likely experience every day, outline what to look out for and offer a little advice which may help you stay alive if you’ve not been here for long.
1. Traffic Lights
The rules for traffic lights in most countries are red means stop, yellow means prepare to stop or proceed with caution and green means go. It’s not the same in Thailand, here green means go, yellow means go faster, red means go if there are no police around. Even when I go through a green light here I always slow down and still check to make sure nothing is coming.
Indicators are usually used to indicate the way you want to turn but they often get totally misused here. Just because someone is indicating left doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to turn left; they might turn right. You’ll often get motorbikes that just continually leave their indicators on so you have to be really careful when passing. Also sometimes if a motorbike wishes to turn left they’ll stay on the right hand side of the road and then suddenly swerve across both lanes which if you are not expecting can cause a bad accident.
Perhaps the most dangerous of them all. In Thailand we don’t really have roundabouts but u-turns are everywhere and they are seriously dangerous. Usually the corresponding u-turn is in front of you and if there are cars u-turning there it’s really hard to see what is coming up the fast lane you wish to turn into. You need to edge your way out slowly because if you go too far and the car behind you is close you then can’t reverse and the front of your car is sticking out into oncoming traffic. Plus you can have motorbikes on both your inside and outside as you try to do it. This is also pertinnent when you are following someone and they do a u-turn in a 2 lane road. Often there are cars coming and the back half of their car sticks out across one whole lane. If there are cars coming up behind you fast it can be super dangerous. You really have to keep your wits about you. This one is no joke, I’ve seen a few accidents resulting in deaths at u-turns. At any junction or u-turn get used to looking left right, in front, behind and even up and down.
4. Lane Discipline
This doesn’t really exist. For most of us those lines in the road are to indicate where we need to drive but in Thailand cars sit right on the lines and / or swerve between lanes without indicating. The advice is keep your distance as best you can especially on the bigger freeways.
5. Road Rage
Avoid road rage at all costs. If you get into an incident stay calm and try to deal with the situation in a controlled manner if you feel angry. Confrontation with Thais is ill-advised. I had an accident myself not so long ago whereby the other driver came round a blind bend on the wrong side of the road not looking in the direction he was going. When we collided his left wheel was over the centre line. I wasn’t hurt and kept calm and the situation was dealt with but had my kids been in the car it would have been more difficult to stay calm for sure.
6. Flashing Your Lights
In most western countries flashing your lights means I’m going to let you go or I’m doing you a favour. In Thailand it means stay the hell out of my way I’m coming through. Knowing this could save your life.
Some great general advice for navigating the Thai roads is to to go slow, take your time and stay calm. After all the chilled out lifestyle that Thailnd offers is what we all love about the place right?